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January 2018 - vol. 33 no. 1

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Step-by-Step Notecards for Solving Secondary Math Problems

Calli Lewis Chiu
University of California - Bakersfield

Secondary students with learning disabilities often struggle with multi-step math problems (Cuenca-Carlino, Freeman-Green, Stephenson, & Hauth, 2015) such as finding the area of circles and triangles, solving for unknown numbers, and finding equivalent fractions. Even when students have been exposed instructional strategies multiple times, they may struggle to remember which formulas to use and which steps to follow to complete multi-step problems. Students who exhibit challenging behaviors may demonstrate these behaviors as a protective shield from academic failures they encounter (Gable et al. 2006). The behaviors may be displayed to conceal students’ frustration and inadequacies in mastering academic content. Therefore, the development and implementation of procedures that support academic success and subsequently minimize displays of challenging behaviors essential (Denune, Hawkins, Donovan, McCoy, Hall, & Moeder, 2015). Notecards with step-by-step instructions detailing how to complete multi-step problems may increase rates of assignment completion and accuracy and may result in a decrease in challenging behavior (Alter 2012).

Step-by-step checklists involve students writing the steps needed to complete multi-step math problems using a teacher’s model. The teacher writes the steps needed to solve the problems so that the steps can be easily viewed by students. The students copy the steps onto their notecards. The notecards can be labeled with the title for each concept, for example, “Converting a Mixed Number to an Improper Fraction.” The notecards should also list any formula needed for each concept (i.e. “base x height = area.”) A sample completed problem should also be included. The teacher should provide explicit instruction regarding each step that is to be completed, and students should be encouraged to ask questions as each step is introduced. Students should also be supported in adding notes to the back of their notecards, and given additional completed sample problems if needed. The notecards can be stored in the classroom, or the teacher may elect to allow the notecards to be taken home so that the students can use the notecards to complete homework.


Alter, P. (2012). Helping students with emotional and behavioral disorders solve mathematics word problems. Preventing School Failure, 56(1), 55-64.

Cuenca-Carlino, Y., Freeman-Green, S., Stephenson, G. W., & Hauth, C. (2015). Self-regulated strategy development instruction for teaching multi-step equations to middle school            students struggling in math. The Journal of Special Education, 50(2).

Denune, H., Hawkins, R., Donovan, L., McCoy, D., Hall, L., & Moeder, A. (2015). Combining self-monitoring and an interdependent group contingency to improve the behavior of sixth graders with EBD. Psychology in The Schools, 52(6), 562-577.

Gable, R. A., Bullock, L. M., & Evans, W. H. (2006). Changing perspectives on alternative schooling for children and adolescents with challenging behavior. Preventing School Failure, 51(1), 5-9.

The Janus Project: Conversations with Leaders in the Field

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

A Conversation with Geoff Colvin

Jim Teagarden, Robert Zabel, & Marilyn Kaff

Kansas State University

The Janus Project collects and disseminates the reflections of leaders in education of children with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) regarding the past, present, and future of the profession. Each of the participants is asked about the people and events that have influenced their career, the current state and future of the field, and for their advice to those entering the field. The Midwest Symposium for Leadership in Behavior Disorders (MSLBD) provides ongoing support for this oral history project. To date nearly 70 conversations have been collected in video form and are available at the following URL:

Dr. Geoff Colvin’s career is marked by a variety of experiences including classroom teacher, administrator, researcher associate at the University of Oregon, author, and consultant. He has authored more than 80 publications, including books, book chapters, articles, and video programs about teaching students who exhibit a range of problems behavior.  His video program Defusing Anger and Aggression was award the Telly Award. He is recognized as a national expert on school safety and violence prevention and has consulted and provided training for educators in more than 100 school districts and national agencies. What follows are excerpts from a Janus Project conversation with Dr. Colvin in 2011.

* * * * *

Janus:  What advice would you offer those just entering the field of                                                emotional/behavioral disorders?

Colvin:  First, I would say loudly and clearly to make sure that you have a good solid background in teaching. Teaching all kids, teaching that 80% group of kids. If you’re a good teacher, you’re cheering their efforts and helping kids learn, then you’re in a good position to work with this population. Don’t shortcut that step. If you go straight to specializing you don’t, in my opinion, have the best foundation as a behavior specialist. So, the best advice I have would be to get as much experience as you can with teaching in general.

Then zero in on kids with problem behavior. If you do decide to specialize, make sure you’re familiar with the early literature, particularly Skinner’s stuff. Secondly, know the current research. Make sure you’re familiar with the arrangement of stuff that’s out there. Then, if you can, find out how teachers are impacted by the kids who are harder to manage, and what do they do.  It’s a big step from teaching the 80% group to the harder kids, but the information’s out there. 

Keep in mind that you might be considered an expert but you always know that you’ll have a hard time reaching that kid. There’s always kids that are going to make you realize that you don’t know that much. They will let you know that what you know doesn’t apply to them. You still continue be asking questions and never get into a comfort zone. These kids won’t let you. I guess it’s getting as familiar as you can with teaching and then knowing what’s out there to take knowledge of strategies and apply it.

Janus:  What should we as teacher trainers be doing to facilitate the learning of our students who work with this population?

Colvin:  I was going to say this earlier but I’ll say it now. Make sure we don’t get too distant from classrooms. You know, the whole criticism of college professors in ivory towers. When was the last time you saw a kid or a teacher? Try to keep in touch with what teachers are dealing with. If you come up with strategies that are great with three kids, but if you are working with 23 or 33, it’s not going to work.  So, stay in tune. You can’t mandate things, but get your students out into the classroom. Go out and take data, watch what they’re doing, ask teacher’s what they’re up against, and so on. Staying in touch is where the rubber hits the road and I think that’s one of the biggest gaps today.

* * * * *

The Janus Project thanks Dr. Colvin for his willingness to share his experiences and insights with our larger profession. His leadership and example are a model for those who wish to stay connected to those for whom this is all about, the students.

The complete conversation with Geoff Colvin may be viewed at the following URL: Future issues of Behavior Today will feature excerpts from conversations with other contemporary leaders in the field of emotional/behavioral disorders.

Regional Services and Membership News

Lonna Moline

It’s WINTER!! Which means we will all be ready for Tampa by February! Sure hope to see everyone there. We will be having another fantastic social. The social is Thursday night. Come be FLY with us on the rooftop of Fly Bar and Restaurant.

Here are the reports from the Regions. I am so thankful for our Regional Coordinators leadership. We couldn’t do it without them!

Region 1:         RC – Phyllis Vermilyea

Lots of great news for Region 1 – I have new contacts for all but Montana so if these could be changed on the National CCBD website, that would be appreciated!

Alaska – new contact for Alaska now – Alison Schmuckal (  She is actually presenting at this conference!  2018 Alaska Statewide Special Education Conference:  Why Fit In When You Were Born to Standout?  Feb. 3-9th Anchorage with Linda Chamberlain,  Eric Hartwig  Keynotes

Idaho – Held CEC conference on October 5th-6th 2017.  Climbing to New Heights was the theme.  Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray from I’ll Push You and Deborah Lynch were Keynotes

Montana – 2018 Montana CEC Conference on Diverse Abilities: Reach for the Stars – Reaching and Teaching All Students  Feb. 28-March 2 Missoula   Behavior Strand, Dr. Laurie Barron and Marilyn Friend – Keynotes

Oregon – new contact is Dr. Christen Knowles who attends U of O.  There are no conferences specifically for Oregon Council of Exceptional Children.  Northwest Positive Behavior Interventions and Support Conference is being held on Feb. 21-23, 2018 in Tacoma.  Central Oregon PBIS Conference is being held April 23, 2018 in Bend, with Dr. Anita Archer as the Keynote Speaker

Washington – Conference was held on Oct. 21, 2017 – Moving Forward:  Current Issues and Climate in Special Education (hosted by CEC, CCBD, CASE and Puget Sound ESD)  Glenna Gallo – Keynote, developed a brochure for recruiting purposes and Amy Okeze, president of WACCBD attended TECBD in Tempe.

Wyoming - new contact is Ashley Davis, just getting involved with CEC and CCBD

Region 2:         RC – Calli Lewis

Arizona - Held the annual TECDB conference October 26-28. The theme for the keynote panel was "Continued Concerns and New Directions: 40 Years of Teacher Educators for Children with Behavior Disorders" and the panelists were C. Michael Nelson, Mary Margaret Kerr, Steve Forness, Kenneth W. Howell, and Dean E. Konopasek


California - Held the CEC conference in San Diego October 20-21. The theme was "Teachers Connecting Through California CEC: You're Not Alone!"  The keynote speakers were Dr. Ruth Ryder, Acting Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), US Department of Education and Eleanor Wheeler, 2017 national Yes I Can! award recipient.

Nevada - Has a new board!
Brett Greenwald, President
Shanon Taylor, Vice President
Janice Lee, Treasurer
Katelyn Zirkus, Secretary

Congratulations and we look forward to the great things you will accomplish!

Region 3:         RC – Soo Ahn

Iowa - Steering committee is being formed.  We are getting interests out through a local conference and sharing information to current teachers in master’s level class at Iowa State University.  We hope to have an informal gathering in the coming months.


South Dakota - Louise Yoho is interested in starting a chapter in South Dakota.  She thinks gathering 15 members for a chapter can be done without too much difficulty. I have shared all the information needed to start a chapter with her.


Region 5:         RC – Bev Johns
I have been unsuccessful in getting a response from the Michigan CCBD president and have also contacted the treasurer.  I have a person who is interested in getting more involved in Michigan CCBD so I have been communicating with her and she is trying to come to the Illinois CCBD conference.

Illinois - Is getting read for their winter drive in conference on Feb. 2-3, 2018.  Lots of great speakers and registrations are already coming in.  We hosted a showcase session with Jonathan Masters on Restorative Justice at the Illinois CEC Convention on November 3, 2017.  We also held a board meeting on November 3rd.

Wisconsin - Is planning its August workshop.
Kentucky  - CCBD will participate in the Kentucky CEC conference which is next week.
Indiana - Is continuing to plan their activities.
Ohio - Is planning their summer institute.

Region 7:         RC – Anne Cramer
Anne plans to focus on finding out why people leave or become inactive, and what they would want to renew their interest in CCBD. 

Region 8:         RC – Clinton Smith

Georgia is up and running with good leadership and will have elections next month for officers.

Region 9:         RC – Kimberly Maich

We (the Ontario CCBD chapter) participated in the Ontario Council for Exceptional Children with a number of workshops related to behaviour, including a Hot Topics roundtable (10th annual discussion). We also put up a CCBD information table and hosted it. These were November events.


Region 10:       RC – Peter Hamilton

News From Canada:  The CCBD-CQJDC entente is now finalized and awaiting signatures.   Subsequent to this, each organization will begin displaying each others logos, post links to each others websites, participate more in each others events, and contribute articles to each others magazines.  Hopefully this will also translate into new members.


There has been a new Ministry of Mental Health and addictions created in the province of British Columbia.   I will be watching this closely, as it could well be a model for us all.

Dear Miss Kitty:

I have a ten year-old student, Marcus, in my cross categorical special education classroom. He has only been in my classroom for about a month but he is very disruptive.  He does have ADHD and a learning disability in the area of written expression. He argues with me when I request that he start a written assignment.  He becomes very angry when I remove him from our free time area when he takes items away from the other students.  My other students are afraid of him.  I have tried giving him positive attention for his appropriate behavior and that works some of the time but not consistently.  When I give him a consequence such as removing him from the free time area, he has a 30 minute meltdown where he throws himself on the floor and starts kicking and screaming.  Luckily, he does not kick anyone else but I am thinking that I better not give him a consequence for taking items away from other students. After all that results in a major meltdown.  I just don’t know what to do with Marcus.

Signed: Olive Out Of Ideas


Dear Olive Out of Ideas:

I am glad you are giving Marcus positive attention when he is behaving. Keep that up and you may want to record yourself for a 30 minute block of time as you work with Marcus to double check to make sure that you are catching his positive behavior.  Record yourself and then go back later when you are alone and make a tally mark each time you make a positive behavior specific praise statement to Marcus.  Note when you say such things as:  “Marcus, thank you for sharing your game,  or “Marcus, thank you for helping Deneva with her assignment. “ Check to make sure that you made at least four positive statements to any negative statement you may have made to Marcus.  Remember he needs a lot of positive attention.  After you listen to the tape, set a goal for yourself and a date when you will record your statements again. 

If you focus on making more positive comments to Marcus, especially when he is engaging in an activity in the free time area, you may be able to reduce the number of consequences you need to give.

However it is critical that you give a consequence to Marcus when he is taking an item from one of his classmates in the free time area. Marcus may be trying to manipulate you so you won’t give him a consequence and you must be firm, fair, and consistent.   Therefore if you have provided him with the consequence, you must give it.  Remember also to give Marcus a warning when he takes an item away from his classmate.  A statement such as:  “Marcus, I need you to give the game back to Deneva. Otherwise I will have you go over to your desk and sit. “  If Marcus gives the game back, it is critical to reinforce him.  “Thank you, Marcus, for giving that game back.  I appreciate that.” However if he does not give it back, then you need to have him go back to his seat.  If he throws the tantrum and is not hurting anyone, ignore him and also praise the other students for ignoring him. If he begins to hurt others, then you will need to ask for assistance to remove him from the area. 

It is important to give him a consequence when he is acting inappropriately. The other students also need to see that you are being consistent in your approach.  If you say something, you must carry through with it.  Otherwise, the other students may become more fearful because they don’t believe you are doing anything about the inappropriate behavior.  If you back away from the consequences, Marcus has been able to manipulate you.

I notice that you are requesting that Marcus start an independent assignment. That is excellent.  Rather than telling him to get the assignment done, it is much better to make a request to start that same assignment.  When Marcus starts the assignment, remember to praise him for doing so and also offer supportive assistance. “Look Marcus, you got those first three right, how about if I help you with the next two.”  Since Marcus does have difficulty with written expression, it is a good idea to reduce the amount of written work he has to do at one time.  Perhaps he could do a few minutes and then engage in a preferred task.  A “First, Then approach” may be effective.  “Marcus, first let’s do two math problems and then you can read or draw a picture for a minute.”  Find out what Marcus likes to do and capitalize on that in the first, then activity.  The more alternatives to written assignments you can provide, the better and less frustrated Marcus will become.  It is a good idea to start with very short written assignments where he is given one or two examples that he can model and then slowly fade away the models. 

Thank you for working with Marcus and hang in there. You can make a positive difference for him.



Miss Kitty

Do you have a question for Miss Kitty?? If so, please email her at

Posted:  1 January, 2018

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